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Despite plan, U.N. faces challenges delivering humanitarian aid

LONDON—The director of the United Nations' World Food Program on Monday outlined a six-month, $1.3 billion emergency plan to feed the people of Iraq, but said that continued war would prevent United Nations workers from entering much of the country to carry it out.

"Clearly we will not go into places that are not safe and secure, where our people will be at risk," program director James T. Morris said at a news conference here.

Morris said he hopes the war is resolved "sooner rather than later so we can do our work ... If I had the ability to call a halt to the fighting, I would have done it already."

The first wartime deliveries of U.N. humanitarian aid crossed into Iraq over the weekend. Three trucks carrying dried milk drove from Turkey into Kurdish-held northern Iraq on Saturday, while three trucks of water came from Kuwait to the coalition-held city of Umm Qasr on Monday. But other vehicles with aid have been unable or unwilling to enter Iraq.

In Rome on Friday, the United Nations' food program issued a worldwide appeal for $2.2 billion in emergency funds for Iraq—$1.3 billion for food and the rest for other humanitarian aid. The United Nations said the money is needed for aid until a new U.N.-run Oil for Food program is fully functioning.

While many Iraqis are believed to have stockpiled enough earlier U.N. food aid to last until the end of April, aid officials said the threat of starvation will increase by May if relief supplies from the United Nations, other agencies, and the U.S.- and U.K.-led military forces are unable to reach Baghdad, Basra and other parts of south and central Iraq.

The U.N. Security Council on Friday voted to resume the suspended Oil for Food program and place it under the direction of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. But the Iraqi government rejected the United Nations' control, saying only the government could run the program.

Under the prior Oil for Food program, which allowed Iraq to sell oil for humanitarian goods, the Iraqi government itself controlled food distribution in southern and central Iraq, channeling it to citizens through some 44,000 small shop outlets.

Early coalition-sponsored efforts to get food and water to Iraq's 24 million people have been met by either chaos or resistance.

Two trucks of Kuwaiti aid arriving in the border town of Safwan on Friday were overwhelmed by mobs of young Iraqi men shouting pro-Hussein slogans. And the British military's supply ship Sir Galahad, docked at the port of Umm Qasr, still cannot deliver aid to the beleaguered city of Basra because of fighting there.

Morris outlined a plan on Monday in which $1.3 billion in emergency food aid, one of the largest undertakings in the U.N.'s history, would be distributed over the next six months. In the first month, he said, food would go to Iraqi refugees arriving in surrounding countries; over the next three months, people inside Iraq would be fed. During the final two months, the program would taper off as the Oil for Food program kicked in.

Morris thanked the United States for contributing $221 million to the emergency appeal and Germany for contributing $6.5 million. He cautioned that strong demands for aid in Iraq could affect the United Nations' ability to deliver aid to other nations, particularly in Africa, where the United Nations says some 38 million people are starving as a result of AIDS, war and other disasters.

Iraqis will need more than food and water during and after the war. The conflict and deprivation under Hussein have devastated hospitals, schools and sewage and water treatment facilities, according to international aid groups and British officials.

Geoffrey Keele, a spokesman for the U.N. program Unicef, which is seeking to raise $166 million as part of the emergency appeal, said Iraq's children will need help recovering from war trauma.

"There are reports of children having uncontrollable crying fits, jumping (at small noises) and having nightmares—all the trauma of living in a city like Baghdad under constant bombardment," Keele said.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.